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I’ve long believed that game rules should devote as much attention to social interaction as they do to combat. A system for impartially determining the action-by-action results of a parley is essential. That’s why I’ve been a proponent of Courtney Campbell’s “On the Non-Player Character,” for years.
But as I approach my 4th year of using this system, it’s time to tinker. The 25 social actions are thorough, and elegant, but I’m slow in using them at the table. Often we will drift off of the system over the course of play, as I try to keep up the pace of a conversation. I decided to simplify the mechanic for ORWA, and I hit on what I call the Give & Take System.
Every conversation is, fundamentally, a process of give and take. Both parties have their views and their preferences, and at any given time one party is getting what they want out of the conversation, and the other party is giving it. Using that model, pretty much every social interaction can be broken down into one of these two groups. (Plus two bonus groups).
The Give & Take System
At the start of a nonviolent encounter, the player who is taking the lead in speaking makes a reaction roll (2d6 + Charisma modifier). That roll is compared to the reaction table on the right to determine how the NPCs respond. The result also determines how many social interactions the party may attempt, total, before the NPC gets bored of talking and starts wishing they could get out of here. The referee should note this number down in a place visible to the players, if possible.
Every back-and-forth will fall into one of four basic categories: Banal, Give, Take, and Convince. Once an action is resolved, the referee reduces the number of remaining actions by 1. If the players force a conversation to continue past the point that an NPC wishes to leave, their reaction will be reduced by 2 for each round they are kept against their wishes. If their reaction reaches 2, the NPC just walk away in annoyance, possibly raising their arm in a rude gesture as they leave.
Banal: Simple conversation, most questions, and other minutia are banal actions. They have no chance to fail, but don’t really earn the party anything other than information.
Giving: Telling a joke, offering compliments, giving gifts, listening to a person’s long winded opinions; these are all giving actions. A giving action is one whose purpose is to ingratiate the party with the NPC they’re speaking to. When giving, roll 2d6 and add all relevant modifiers:
<6: The NPC is unimpressed.
6: The NPC is enjoying your company, and will stick around a little longer. +2 social actions.
9: The NPC is intrigued by you, and is willing to hear you out. +1 to your next Taking or Convincing attempt.
11: The NPC likes you. +1 to your reaction with this NPC.
Taking: Make a request or a demand, negotiating, offering a bribe, asking questions the NPC may not be inclined to answer; these are all taking actions. Taking is when a conversation turns towards the player’s desires, and what they want to get out of a parley. Generally, if the players would be happy to hear a “yes,” and sad to hear a “no,” it’s a taking action.
<4: The NPC is upset by what you said, and your reaction with them drops by 1 category.
4: The NPC refuses you outright.
6: The NPC will meet you halfway.
9: The NPC agrees to what you want.
11: The NPC agrees, and offers to do a little better than what was asked for.
There are two notable special cases for Taking rolls: Intimidation, and Bribery.
When the players are attempting to Intimidate, the roll should be modified by the difference in average level between the two groups. If the party’s is higher, they recieve a bonus of 1 for each level higher they are. If the party is lower, the recieve a penalty of 1 for each level lower they are.
When the party is attempting a bribe, the Fighter’s experience table should be referenced. The baseline bribe for an NPC is equal to one quarter of the amount it would take to reach their current hit dice if they were a fighter. So a 2HD character, the baseline bribe is 500sp. Increasing or decreasing this amount by 50% will modify the bribe by +/- 2.
Convincing: Telling a lie which the NPC has cause to doubt, or making an argument against something the NPC thinks; are both convincing actions. Convincing is a more challenging form of taking. The primary difference is whether success will effect the NPC beyond the scope of a single exchange. It’s one thing to get a guard to accept a bribe–they can put the money in their pocket and forget they ever saw you. It’s another thing entirely to get them to join the revolution.
<6: The NPC is unhappy with what you’ve said. Reaction drops by 1 category.
6: The NPC is not convinced.
9: The NPC is trepidatious. They will have to think about what you’ve said.
11: The NPC accepts what you said wholeheartedly.
For any of these, situational modifiers of 1 or 2 may occasionally apply. Players who expect something in exchange for nothing should take a penalty to their taking roll; while players who offer a generous sum in exchange for a small concession should get a bonus.
That said, more often than not it’s best to let the dice fall where they may. This allows the referee to discover the character of various NPCs along with the players. The guard who refuses a bribe worth more than he makes in a lifetime must be especially loyal. The guard who joins the revolution on a whim must have some reason to be discontented.
Anyway, that’s Give & Take. I’ve used it in my last few games, and as of this writing it has performed phenomenally well.